The key to any golfers’ success is how well they navigate around the golf course – planning and executing golf shots and letting go if there are bad shots. I had the opportunity to serve as a walking scorer this past weekend at the Waste Management Phoenix Open and observed up-close, how Tour Professionals execute shots and manage their missed opportunities. I realized even though for Tour Professionals this is their job, all golfers can learn from their course management strategies.
While for most of us, our livelihood does not depend on perfectly executed shots or missed putts, we still go to the course every time we play expecting to hit some great tee shots, pitch the ball close to the hole and to make a few putts.
You key to successfully managing yourself around the course begins with a quick review of your mechanics – check your grip, stance and alignment with your teaching professional to make sure you have sound mechanics. If you notice you consistently hit the ball to the right, a tweek to your grip or alignment may be needed.
The quickest way to achieve immediate results in golf is to improve how you play (in addition to sharpening your short game). A key to successful golf course management is to play to your strengths and avoid your weaknesses. Begin by setting an achievable goal – to break 100 or 90, to have 36 or fewer putts per 18-hole round, to bogey every hole and avoid double or triple bogey, etc. When you transition to the golf course create a game plan to keep in mind how you will meet these goals.
If you are playing your home course, chances are you can stand on the tee of any hole and play that hole backwards in your mind – from the green back to the tee. Where is the best place to putt from on the green? To get to that spot on the green, where are you most comfortable hitting your approach shot? 50-yards? 75-yards? Perhaps you prefer a full swing with your approach shot rather than a half-swing. Think about your ideal approach shot distance and try to be near that spot for your perfect yardage.
If there are hazards like bunkers and/or water hazards, think about the best way to avoid hitting in them. This may mean you need to lay-up short of that hazard – and remember to account for roll after your ball hits the fairway. Many times a golfer see a hazard is 110-yards away and hits a 100-yard club not remembering that once the ball hits the fairway, it will roll. Can you think of a time you hit a “perfect” lay-up shot, only to have it end up in the hazard anyway? Take one club less and swing easy to avoid the hazard.
Now as you stand on the tee and plan to play the hole, your goal is to give yourself the best chance of hitting the fairway. Again, look for hazards you may be able to reach with your tee shot. Since you are trying to get your golf ball in the best possible place, maybe you need to hit a fairway wood, hybrid or iron to achieve that result. Have a target in mind – to get your drive inside the 200-yard marker or even with a bunker in the rough and play the rest of the hole in a manner to avoid trouble.
A key to a good game plan is to know the distances you hit your clubs. Standing on the tee of a 340-yard hole you may be thinking, “I hit my driver 150 yards, a good 3-wood goes 125 yards that leaves me with 65 yards to the green.” If you play the hole in your head before you hit, you are likely to “manage” your way around the course better.
If you do have a bad shot or even a bad hole, the best thing to do is to let go, move on and remember that the next hole is a new opportunity to hit great shots. You will find that playing with a plan in mind leads to greater confidence and lower scores.